Insider dealing. Favouritism. Top-level collusion. Fantastic fraud. These are the ingredients that feature prominently in one of the latest jaw-dropping contract scams reminiscent of the controversial grass-cutting contract mess involving a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation. At the centre of this industrial-scale mess Messrs Vlatacom, a company engaged by authorities of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS).
The fraud-tainted deal was consummated way back in 2010 under the leadership of the then Comptroller-General of Nigeria Immigration Service, Mr Chukwurah Joseph Udeh, for the lease of software and Electronic Passenger Registration System (e-PaRS).
The Electronic Passenger Registration System, sponsored by some European Union countries through the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), was introduced in 2007 to not only automate the Manual Registration System but also compliment the real essence of the e-passport launched same period. The e-PaRS pilot project lasted from three years after which the then Comptroller-General of NIS Mr Chukwurah Joseph Udeh awarded a maintenance and customisation agreement of the e-PaRS to Messrs Vlatacom.
The contract, signed on July 20, 2010, at $330,000.00 USD for two years, was for the following services: Software customisation; Training and installation; and Hardware maintenance.
However, as the personnel of the Nigeria Immigration Service were still clinking glasses to mark the deal, some unpalatable facts began to pop up in respect of the contract. To begin with, barely had the contract sum been paid than a new agreement was consummated between the Nigeria Immigration Service and Messrs Vlatacom on the customised Electronic Passenger Registration System on February 9, 2011. Surprisingly, this was followed by yet another lease agreement for customised e-PaRS in December 2014 even as it emerged that the Managing Director of Messrs Vlatacom was the brother-in-law of the then Comptroller-General of Nigeria Immigration Service, Mr Chukwurah Joseph Udeh.
By way of contrast, it must be noted that unlike the contract agreement signed in 2010 that had itemised services attached to the payment of $330,000.00 USD, the agreements of February 9, 2011, and December 11, 2014, respectively, have no services offering for the single payment. Instead, the demand for payment was based on the “Leaser Agreement.”
It was further learnt that Messrs Vlatacom in early 2016 wrote a reminder to the authorities of the Nigeria Immigration Service for the payment of $345,000.00 USD for the lease of customised e-PaRS and its registration system software license at $2300 USD per unit for 150 units of the e-passport readers at the airports. That was even as, since 2012, all the maintenance, deployment, configuration and troubleshooting of the entire e-PaRS applications and its associated hardware had been carried out by the ICT offices of the Nigeria Immigration Service and not Messrs Vlatacom. Aside from this, it was gathered that the amount of money demanded by Messrs Vlatacom is enough to build a new system from scratch. Also, if the sums demanded by the company were paid, it would have gleaned a whopping lump sum of USD1,005,000 from the Nigeria Immigration Service for allegedly doing little or nothing.
What makes the deals stink further is that Messrs Vlatacom has now appointed the former Comptroller-General of Nigeria Immigration Service Mr Chukwurah Joseph Udeh as its chairman. Some insiders said a mast belonging to Messrs Vlatacom is currently installed at the residence of the former boss of the Nigeria Immigration Service.
Second, many have pointed out that Mr Chukwurah Joseph Udeh’s role in the contract smacks of conflict of interest. This is even as available facts show that Nigeria Immigration Service’s officers were the ones that had been maintaining, repairing and even carrying-out installations of the readers at the airports while Messrs Vlatacom collects money for doing nothing.
Investigations by this medium revealed that Messrs Vlatacom also has questionable registration as a private entity. Responding to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) said it has no record of the registration of Vlatacom as a company.
Amidst all these startling revelations, outrage pervades the sector with Nigeria Immigration Service personnel and various stakeholders alike demanding that the ex-NIS boss and others involved in this monumental rip-off be brought to book in line with the anti-corruption agenda of the President Muhammed Buhari-led administration.
Efforts to get response from the officials of VLATACOM, Mr Chukwurah Joseph Udeh and officials of Nigerian Immigration Service on the matter did not yield fruitful result.